During his weekly press conference, Danny Hope quickly and rather emphatically shrugged off any speculation about whether the teams he played for at Eastern Kentucky University could have beaten Kentucky if the two schools had played.

“I didn’t say that,” the fifth-year Colonel coach said.

But, what he did say, with just as much emphasis, was that every member of those teams certainly would have liked the opportunity to step onto the field against the Wildcats.

“I played here a long time ago (from 1977 to 1980) and I always dreamed about playing against the University of Kentucky. When I came here as head coach it was something that was very, very important to me. It’s a really big deal.”

Almost three decades later, Hope is finally get that chance.

EKU travels to Commonwealth Stadium today to face Kentucky in the season opener for both teams. It will be just the second all-time meeting between the two schools, which are separated by less than 30 miles.

“It doesn’t need a whole lot of explaining,” Hope said of the game. “What a great opportunity for our football team. The logistics of it make it really exciting.”

There were definitely times during the Hall of Fame career of Coach Roy Kidd (1964-2002) that the Colonels could have competed with Kentucky. EKU won two NCAA Division I-AA national titles (1979 and 1982) and was the runner-up in 1980 and 1981. The Colonels also won 16 Ohio Valley Conference titles and made 17 trips to the playoffs.

During Kidd’s tenure at EKU, Kentucky had just nine winning seasons, one of which came in 1998 when the two schools met for the first time.

The Wildcats blasted the Colonels 52-7 in Commonwealth Stadium and went on to win seven games that year, earning a spot in the Outback Bowl.

“They were at their best with (quarterback Tim) Couch and all those guys, and we were not at our best,” Kidd said of the 1998 game. “I had a brand new quarterback. He was a transfer kid who really didn’t know the system yet. And I think I only had one experienced offensive lineman.”

The Colonels will once again have to face a very talented Kentucky team when the two squads meet today in Lexington. The Wildcats are coming off an eight-win season that included the school’s first bowl victory since 1984 and return one of the best quarterbacks in the country — senior Andre Woodson.

“I think they are the best football team that we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Hope said of Kentucky.

The Colonels (6-5) won their final four games last year to finish with the program’s 29th straight winning season and 34th consecutive non-losing season.

EKU returns 21 seniors, many of whom were part of Hope’s first recruiting class, and 18 starters. The Colonels also have 24 players from Kentucky on the roster, including quite a few who grew up cheering for the Wildcats.

“It’s one of those things you dream about,” junior quarterback Allan Holland said about playing Kentucky. “I used to be a season ticket holder. I’ve always dreamed about playing (at Commonwealth Stadium) and its going to be a great opportunity. I’ve got a lot of people coming from home (Hazard). It’s all anyone talked about all summer.”

Kentucky has opened up against Louisville every year since 1994, but that rivalry game was pushed back this season in part because the UK coaching staff thought their team would be better prepared to take on the Cards a few games into the season.

Still, that doesn’t mean the Wildcats are looking past the Colonels.

“They’re a good team and will definitely play with a chip on their shoulder, so we need to play with one on ours,” UK receiver Keenan Burton said. “We’ve been there before with teams in the SEC who have looked at us in the past as a bad loss if we beat them. They have so much to gain from this game, so we need to stay focused and play hard."

Hope said he has received dozens of phone calls from former teammates and players wishing the Colonels luck against Kentucky. And there’s no doubt that one former coach will be hoping that EKU pulls off a big-time upset.

“Of course I hope they go over there and win,” Kidd said. “But, I hope that they are in a better place to compete with them than I was.”

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